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Understanding of variation characteristics of public environmental awareness is vital to raising such awareness. The paper compares data released by surveys in Beijing between 1994 and 2005 on five aspects, namely public cognition, sentiments, attitude, assessment of and actions for the environment and analyzes, through comprehensive assessment, variation characteristics of public awareness in China in the past 12 years and the reasons behind such changes. Research results show between 1994 and 2005, there was an upward trend in the general level of public environmental awareness in Beijing. It rose remarkably between 1994 and 1997, changed slowly between 1998 and 2001 and increased again between 2001 and 2005. The reasons behind the two periods of increase are however different. During the first period of increase, public environmental awareness awoke spontaneously due to poor environmental conditions in Beijing; whereas during the second period of increase, public environmental awareness rose further because of the successful bidding for the Olympics. The interval period of slow change was attributed to a lack of understanding of environmental protection by the public due to a lack of external intervention.